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Words with “ɒ” or “ʌ” in word pairs like “hot/hut” in British English.

I have learned to speak English with a British accent and for that reason this discussion is aimed at native British speakers, but anyone with something relevant to contribute with is welcome.
I’m interested in knowing how British English speakers perceive certain words spoken in isolation with no context to help them understand which word it is. The words I’m interested in are words in word pairs like hot/hut, where the only difference in pronunciation is the vowel sound, which is either an “ɒ” or “ʌ” (when using the IPA symbols).
I have no difficulty determining which word is which in context, but I feel that the pronunciation of those vowel sounds vary quite a lot between individual speakers, so if I hear one of those words in isolation I feel there are times when they can be mistaken, including when I pronounce them myself. Is this just because my brain still has something to learn about the nuances of English vowel sounds or are there native speakers of British English who feel the same way?
Other similar word pairs are:
body /ˈbɒdi/  vs buddy /ˈbʌdi/
golf /ɡɒlf  vs gulf  /ɡʌlf/
cough /kɒf/ vs cuff  /kʌf/

Jul 20, 2016 2:47 PM
Comments · 25

I can't say I have any difficulty distinguishing them when said individually, regardless of the speaker's accent. It's instantly obvious which one is which to me.

And given the difference in pronunciation is the same for all these words (the difference between the 'o' and 'u' vowel sounds) it does make me think that, yes, it's more likely that you are still getting to grips with the nuances in the pronunciation.

July 20, 2016
I think native speakers everywhere will have no trouble distinguishing the two sounds. The exact pronunciation of these vowels varies a bit according to regional accents (for example in the north of England, and much of Ireland, the RP phoneme /ʌ/ doesn't exist and is replaced by /ʊ/), but within any given accent they are distinct (as far as I know there are no accents where these two have merged), and since in most everyday situations the accent of potential interlocutors tends to be fairly predictable, the problem of mixing up accents doesn't arise that often. That said, they are nonetheless quite close phonetically, so you probably just need a bit more practice to get your ear used to the distinction.
July 21, 2016

Audio Recording Tip:


Always make sure that your microphone is 'turned on'... shame on me for not checking before making my recording.


This time my microphone was 'on' :)


July 20, 2016



I thought you might like to hear the Canadian pronunciation of the words in your list.

I pronounced each word pair twice, e.g.,  hot/hut hot/hut

Here are the words that I recorded:


hot / hut

body / buddy

golf / gulf

cough / cuff

dog / dug

gone / gun

luck / lock

not / nut

long / lung



And here is the recording (paste the link into your browser):



If others want to record this list, they may make a recording at:


July 20, 2016

Thanks a lot for your comments! From what you all have written it seems quite clear to me that I need to spend more time on getting to grips with the sounds "ɒ" and "ʌ".

Sarah: Words like "bee" and "be" are called "homophones"

July 20, 2016
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